Your clients should begin thinking about their digital lives, and what they want to pass on or make accessible to their heirs. To learn more, read on…
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Planning Your Clients’ Digital Afterlife
An individual’s computer or smartphone may house a trove of information and valuable assets that require a plan for disposition upon his or her passing. Many things once stored in a drawer or file cabinet are now available online as a digital afterlife. You can hold in this digital space photos, book drafts, home movies and personal correspondence.
Do your clients have a plan for their social media accounts, such as Facebook or Twitter? Do they wish to leave a final posting, or have the family be able to announce their passing?
If your client has a seller’s account on a site such as eBay or Amazon, does he or she want a family member to inherit the business or just transfer the existing inventory—and any profits thereon—to a designated individual?
Without hard copy financial statements being sent to the deceased, it may become difficult for family members or the estate executor to learn of all of your client’s financial accounts, leaving assets unclaimed and debts building up.
Different Policies and Current Laws Make for a Muddle
How clients are able to direct their digital afterlife will be constrained, in part, by the individual policies of provider platforms. For example,
- Facebook does not allow any further postings after death, placing the account in a memoriam status that permits only others to post comments.
- Whether an heir can continue to run the deceased seller’s account may depend upon the agreement with the platform.
- While e-mail accounts may get deleted upon death, some providers do allow e-mails to be downloaded, though that may require the account holder’s approval.
The laws regarding access to e-mails, social media sites and other digital accounts after an individual’s death are evolving. For instance, California recently passed legislation that provides for the ability of digital asset and record owners to permit which accounts or records their estate may access after their death, e.g., e-mails, but not text messages.
What’s a Client to Do?
Your clients should begin thinking about their digital lives, and what they want to pass on or make accessible to their heirs. On the whole, e-mails may be boring or highly personal, but those communications with the children during summer away camp may be priceless.
Once clients have landed on what they would like to do, they should speak with their attorney to insert language into their will to reflect their plans.
Finally, clients should keep a record of all their digital accounts and assets, including user names and passwords, and store it with their other estate planning documents.
See referenced disclosure (2) at http://blog.americanportfolios.com/disclosures/